Fight or Flight
The Truth & Knowing Your Survival Response
by Jesse Seal and James Bullock

If you've ever taken a personal protection class or even watched a self-defense video on YouTube, you've probably heard the concept of "fight or flight." This usually refers to the adrenaline rush and other physiological changes we feel, and how we respond to that feeling when presented with extraordinary survival stress. This doesn't just happen before a fight, it happens during most catastrophic events.

The problem with only teaching "fight or flight" in regards to self-defense is that there are actually two more possible reactions you might experience; flinch or freeze.


Simply stated, this is escaping the situation, and is honestly the best option. A mistake many people make is they "stand their ground" because of some misconceived notion that they're doing the right thing by standing up for themselves. This is nothing more than an excuse to protect your ego, and doing so can have severe consequences. Even if you "win" the altercation, you're taking the chance of ending up in jail with assault and battery charges.

Standing your ground to fight is not personal protection. You must at least attempt to de-escalate the situation, and engage in a fight as a last resort. As James states in the above video, you're not "running away" from danger, you're running towards the things you love in life.


Sometimes, it's impossible to escape and there's no way your oppressor is de-escalating. I'm not going to take the time to explain "how to win a street fight," but this is a good time to make good use of the deceptive posture and straight-line shots (make this link to Straight-Line Attacks article). As soon as you have the opportunity to escape, take it!

Finally, let's talk about the two less commonly mentioned survival responses:

The Flinch

If you're flinching, it's usually because your attacker has already launched his assault. It's ideal at this time to "fight" instead of flinch, but the flinch is not always a bad thing. With training, you can mold your flinch response so that it works in your favor to set up a counterstrike. The most important thing to know right now is what your flinch response is.

What do you do when a box is about to fall off of a shelf and onto your head? Your reaction here will be similar to your reaction to a fist flying at your head.

At the very least you want your arms to come up to protect your head. Your head will probably turn to protect your face, but this is something that can be overcome with training, so seeking out a competent instructor is important.

In this video we talk a little more about the flinch:


This is absolutely the worst thing you can do. Often referred to as deer-in-the-headlight-syndrome, freezing is the best way to ensure a visit to the hospital. If freezing is something you do, then it is vitally important to overcome this reaction with some specific training. This often happens to people who believe that they are immune to violence, and they are in no way mentally prepared for the possibility of someone attacking them.

One way to prepare on your own time and without an instructor is through mental scripting.

As you can see, there are more reactions than just fight or flight. Flinching or freezing, while not as optimal as fighting or fleeing, are more likely to occur with people who don't take a proactive approach to their personal protection. Seek further training; use the mental scripting exercise mentioned above; and remember that awareness is the first step towards avoidance.

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About the Author

Jesse Seal is the assistance Combatives Instructor, and has been training in Combative Sciences since 2008. He has also been training and learning through Bullock's Irondom Performance Systems since 2010.

About the Author

James Bullock is the head coach for Irondom Performance Systems and Combative Sciences. He's written programs for athletes and non-athletes alike, including numerous world record holders in various sports. Combative Sciences was found in 1999 and is the culmination of decades of martial arts training. 

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